|Sustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)|
|Part 4: Institutional issues|
|National, regional, and international cooperation for sustainable environmental and resource management: The place and roles of NGOs|
NGOs are often of and for the people. In recent years, there have been concerns about accountability by governments and NGOs themselves to the people and to the sustainability of natural resources and of societies. More immediate shifts towards democratization worldwide have strengthened NGO calls for participation and accountability. They see this happening in many ways.
Holding governments to their pledges
Governments have gone through two decades of agreements, resolutions, and conventions. Many of these have very good points that, if implemented, would have positive impacts on the resource base and societies. NGOs are concerned that governments honour what they have pledged to undertake. Through many channels, including the media and dialogues, NGOs want to hold governments to their pledges.
Reminding governments of their responsibilities
Governments are now accepted as being in place for the people and that their utmost priority is to uphold the well-being and welfare of their populations. NGOs are joining hands at either national or international levels to watch over governments, acting as their consciences and in some cases as their executioners. More NGOs are defining such roles for themselves and it is clear that, as society moves into new forms of democratization, a unity among NGOs will emerge to press for greater change and participation.
Calling for participatory democracy
NGOs now distinguish between representative and participatory democracy, seeing the latter as central to sustainability:
Participatory democracy is central to sustainability: how are all poor rural women struggling for livelihoods to be heard? How will development paradigms ensure the sustainability of their assets? What about indigenous people in the Amazonia and North America; the Maoris in New Zealand; the urban poor in our cities, the young, men and women, outside main-stream structures? Many of us in the NGO world believe that these are central to the sustainability of life-support systems, of cultures and ultimately of entire societies. Participatory democracy is a cornerstone of respect for human rights and of ensuring civil liberties. Governments everywhere must address the question of civil liberties. (Environment Liaison Centre International 1992: 12)
It is clear that, in the post-Rio era, participatory democracy is becoming an organizing theme for NGOs nationally and regionally, linking African NGOs to those outside the continent on a South South, South-North basis.
Holding themselves accountable
There are two main ways in which NGOs hold themselves accountable. First, some have started to include organizational and programme audits in their structures. In this way, and on their own, they attempt to ensure accountability to their constituencies. Are the structures they have in place conducive to participation and delivery? Are the programmes reflective of the concerns of the people for whom they were initiated? Are the programmes delivering the goods such that the identification, planning, and implementation process actually empowers the intended "beneficiaries"?
Secondly, NGOs are coming up with alternative treaties, a phenomenon that gathered momentum during the UNCED process and especially in Rio. NGOs are developing and evolving mechanisms for monitoring themselves, ensuring that the same rules they apply to governments are applied to themselves. As we enter a period of more conventions and treaties, we shall see NGOs develop more articulate mechanisms for self-monitoring.